KUCHING - Government departments in Sarawak will have to entertain correspondence in English now that the use of the language has been made official.
According to state Land Development Minister Tan Sri James Masing, letters written in English had occasionally been ignored in the past as there was no official directive on using the language.
"Now it is very clear that you can use English. Before this, if you wrote in English, the letter would be thrown into the bin sometimes.
"Now it's official, so government departments can no longer ignore correspondence in English.
"The Chief Minister has made it clear," he said.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem had announced on Wednesday that official correspondence in the state could now be done in English as well as Bahasa Malaysia.
"Inter-department correspondence or from the public to government departments need not be in Bahasa Malaysia all the time. You can write in Bahasa Malaysia or English," he said.
Hailing the decision, Masing said his ministry received plenty of correspondence in English, especially from foreign investors interested in oil palm.
"For example, they will write to us about market conditions and outlook. If my officers don't understand English, we will lose out."
He added that allowing English to be used in official correspondence was "practical and logical" as it was an international language of communication.
"If we don't have English, we will be left behind economically. It is why we are behind Singapore, even though it has no natural resources, and that to me is an embarrassment," he added.
Masing also said the decision was a positive step towards enhancing proficiency in English while not sidelining Bahasa Malaysia.
"What the Chief Minister did was correct. We should promote the use of English which we have lost in the last 30 years, so I applaud the Chief Minister for making a brave decision," he said.
In fact, he added, the Federal Government should introduce the use of English along with Bahasa Malaysia in Parliament if it was serious about improving English.
"We can promote both languages. People can learn two or more languages - it's not a problem."
State Housing Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the decision was in line with the Malaysia Agreement, which allows both the national language and English to be used in official matters in Sarawak.
"Since it is there, what the Chief Minister is saying is to let the status quo remain. He wanted to stress that you can use English in your official correspondence.
"So now we allow people, especially those in the private sector, to write to us officially in English," he added.